Paul Ryan’s path to economic peril

The policy prescriptions of the Republicans’ vice-presidential pick would hurt the majority of Americans.

If Paul Ryan becomes vice president, Americans could see education spending cut by 45 per cent [GALLO/GETTY]
If Paul Ryan becomes vice president, Americans could see education spending cut by 45 per cent [GALLO/GETTY]

Washington DC – Look past the boyish, small-town Wisconsin charm, the incredible commitment to physical fitness, and the impressive clarity in communicating fiscal conservatism, and what does the US get with the Paul Ryan vice president pick? Having served as a senior policy advisor to one of Chairman Ryan’s colleagues on the House Budget Committee, US Congressman Michael Honda, I know the picture Ryan is trying to paint all too well. And it is a grim one.

When Paul Ryan first painted his so-called “Path to Prosperity“, not only were progressives in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) utterly shocked at how regressive the legislation was, but so too were moderate Democrats. In the Ryan roadmap, the only group of Americans bound to prosper under Ryan’s plan were the “haves”. If you were an American “have-not“, forget about it, you were screwed.

Ryan’s budget was so bad for the majority of Americans that people turned out en masse to resist it. Helping Honda, who serves as the CPC’s Budget Taskforce Chair, put forth a “People’s Budget” on behalf of the Progressive Caucus, we received laudations and endorsements from credible economists and analysts at The Economist, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, among others. Even Paul Krugman and Jeff Sachscame out swinging for us. There was a palpable hunger for some sane voice in the House Budget Committee and the CPC clearly struck a nerve in Congress.

That chord was so resonant that one congress later the CPC came out again with a “Budget for All“, a budget that protected American families, put Americans back to work, provided for a fair tax policy, and brought our troops home, all while implementing fiscal discipline. Yes, it is possible, Mr Ryan.

Now, a couple congresses after the CPC’s initial alternative budget offering, reporters are writing on Ryan’s roadmap in fairly glossary terms. Very few are highlighting how damaging his policies would be to the majority of Americans. So some clarification is needed.

Do Americans realise that under a Ryan economic regime, education spending would be cut by 45 per cent, despite the fact that our educational performance in reading, science and math continues to fail to rank in the top ten of the OECD’s rich world countries? Or that infrastructure spending would be cut by 24 per cent, despite the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers are calling for over $2tn in new monies to simply bring our roads and bridges up to standard after maintenance has been underserved for decades? Counter-intuitively, and at a time when US economic competitiveness needs help the most, Ryan’s House budget plan slashes nearly $1tn in investments in education, job training, scientific research and transportation infrastructure over the next decade.

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Do Americans realise that under a Ryan economic regime, tens of millions of our poor neighbours, families, brothers and sisters, would be dropped categorically and coldly to the curb, with no support whatsoever from the very system that our forefathers and mothers set up to ensure that the United States would prosper? Does the US realise that health insurance protections would be thrown to the private-sector wind with no guarantee of a patient-centric approach at all? All the while keeping corporate tax loopholes and giving huge tax breaks to the very, very wealthy, totaling $3tn.

Do Americans realise that beyond the campaign trail charm, there is another side to Ryan, which was witnessed in the House Budget Committee hearing room? Often dismissive and even disrespectful of his Budget Committee colleagues on the Democratic side, Ryan is no naive, small-town boy whose principles will prevent him from turning a profit off his policymaking position. That he accepted close to $60,000 from a now-convicted campaign contributor in exchange for trucking-friendly legislation is indicative of how he’s no stranger to how policymaking works for the one per cent. Make no mistake: Ryan is uncomfortably close to K street. Hardly a charming disposition for our democracy.

Hopefully Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will not adopt Ryan’s voucher-centric and overly voucher-reliant approach to doing government business, but Romney’s private-sector preference may well predispose him towards a vouchered Medicare and Medicaid world, at the disregard of the United States’ most needy seniors, poor and disabled. This would be so far outside the ethos of this country’s founding and from the Statue of Liberty’s liking that the country may well be unrecognisable in this Republican regime. Without question, this is a contest for a completely different vision of, and future for, America.

Michael Shank is an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

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